Schmeelk: Steve Mills Should Be Out Of Chances With Knicks

Dolan Must Turn Page, Find New Team President

John Schmeelk
December 03, 2019 - 12:40 pm

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Without two of their best defenders and smartest players, the Knicks were demolished by the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday night 132-88. Without Marcus Morris and Frank Ntilikina playing the second half of a back-to-back, the Knicks were noncompetitive on both ends of the floor.

There isn’t much of a point in displaying the gory details, but here are a few numbers to show exactly how bad it was.

Knicks field goal percentage: 30.8

Bucks field goal percentage: 55.8

Knicks 41 rebounds

Bucks: 58 rebounds

Bucks: 54 points in the paint, 29 fast-break points

The Knicks didn’t move the ball. They couldn’t score. They couldn’t defend. They couldn’t rebound. It was a no-show performance.

Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry had their James Dolan-induced impromptu press conference after 10 games when the Knicks were 2-8. Since then, they are 2-9 with seven straight losses. 

Mills has said he likes to evaluate the team in 10-game stretches. At 4-17, the Knicks have the worst record in the Eastern Conference and are only a half-game better than the depleted Warriors.

Steve Mills
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Images

There had been some minor signs of progress. Fizdale had finally found a set starting lineup and stuck with it. They had played top Eastern teams, such as the 76ers and Celtics, very closely for three quarters before crumbling down the stretch. In retrospect, it is fair to wonder if those superior teams were simply sleepwalking through the first three quarters of those games. Once their intensity level peaked at the end of those games, the Knicks were unable to hang with them.

There is also very little progress from the Knicks’ youngsters. On Monday night, Kevin Knox, RJ Barrett and Dennis Smith Jr. combined to shoot 2-of-25 from the field and 0-of-10 from behind the 3-point line. Barrett’s shooting is down to .396/.317/.533. Knox is all the way down to .370/.351/.660. Mitchell Robinson continues to get into foul trouble, inexplicably reaching in against smaller players instead of using his length to try to block their shots.

The Knicks are as bad as their record says they are. Only the Warriors are being outscored by more points per 100 possessions than the Knicks (-9.6). With a four-game West Coast trip looming next week, coach David Fizdale’s seat must be feeling uncomfortably warm, even as the winter weather hits the Big Apple. The roster is the larger overarching issue, but Fizdale is failing to maximize what he has.

Soon, Mills will be left with very little choice. As Dolan grows more and more unhappy with the team’s performance and wonders why his team president’s promise of a more competitive roster is going unfulfilled, Mills is going to go into survivor mode. He has worked in some capacity at the Garden for the better part of the last 16 years. He knows how to stay employed despite calamities around him. From the outside looking in, it appears to be his best skill.

Mills will blame Fizdale for the team’s problems when Dolan comes looking for someone to blame. The coach is always the first to take the fall. Whoever replaces him might do a little better, but improvements will be on the margins. Instead of the team staying on a 15- to 16-win pace like they are now, perhaps they will get onto a 25-win pace. The chance that satisfies the team owner is highly unlikely.

Eventually, the bell will toll for Mills. It probably won’t happen until after the season, but it will happen. He doesn’t deserve another chance at putting a roster together after failing as GM under Phil Jackson and now as team president. There’s no way to know who the Knicks might be able to hire, but fans should take caution in believing someone like Raptors president Masai Ujiri would come to the Knicks. Gifts like that are rarely bestowed upon the Knicks, even with Dolan’s vast bank account at his disposal.

Barring a miracle turnaround or exponential development from some of the Knicks youngsters, Fizdale will be extremely fortunate to make it to 2020. It’s more likely a matter of when, not if, he will be fired. The Knicks continue to lose, and when that happens, heads eventually roll at Madison Square Garden. The coach will be first, but whether Mills eventually stays or goes is much more important to the future of the franchise.

You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also listen to more of his Knicks opinion on his podcast, “The Bank Shot,” on most popular podcast platforms.